The trial of the Missoula man accused of murdering a German exchange student resumed Tuesday with Ecuadorian student Robby Pazmino testifying he was "garage-hopping" with Diren Dede the night he died.
It was a "game" they learned from Missoula teenagers, he said.
Markus Kaarma is accused of deliberate homicide for the April 27 shooting of Dede, who wandered into his garage looking for alcohol shortly after midnight.
The boys did not believe they were doing anything bad, Pazmino told jurors, and never could have imagined the consequences.
Kaarma’s defense team contends Pazmino and Dede were part of a teenage burglary ring that targeted Kaarma’s six-bedroom Grant Creek home.
On the stand, Pazmino denied any involvement in organized crime and denied ever going into Kaarma’s garage himself.
But Pazmino said he and Dede, who he described as his best friend, fraternized with Missoula teens who garage-hopped on three to five other occasions. Pazmino and Dede never got out of the car, while the American teenagers ran into garages and stole alcohol.
“We are not criminals,” Pazmino said. “It was like a game, but we didn't know the rules. No one told us we could get shot, because we don’t have those rules in our countries."
Pazmino normally stayed the weekends with Dede, and the day of the fatal shooting was a sleepy one. The boys considered going to a bonfire, but inclement weather canceled those plans and they lazed around Dede’s host family’s home, playing video games and watching movies.
Shortly before midnight, Pazmino and Dede decided to go for a walk. As they turned the corner to Kaarma’s street, Dede picked up a cat and started petting it. That launched a conversation about mountain lion sightings in the neighborhood.
“Imagine if we see a mountain lion,” Pazmino told Dede. “We would pee our pants.”
When they came across Kaarma’s partially open garage moments later, Pazmino told the jury Dede approached the garage wordlessly and didn’t answer when Pazmino asked what he was doing.
“Diren was really brave,” he said. “He wasn’t afraid of anything. He was just brave.”
Pazmino said he carried on down the street and was surprised when he heard a voice say “I see you there,” and the first gunshot.
He said he was frightened, so he ran back to Dede’s home – jumping over several fences and losing his phone in the process. Still not realizing his friend had been shot, he waited for Dede to return. He didn’t call 9-1-1 because he didn’t think it was possible that Dede had been harmed in the incident, he explained.
Pazmino returned to the scene with Dede’s host parents, Kate Walker and Randy Smith, about 20 minutes after the ambulance had taken Dede away. That’s when he learned his friend had been wounded in the garage.
He told the jury that he didn’t know about garage-hopping – or what he initially called “garage-shopping” – until he moved to Missoula. He wasn’t comfortable with the practice.
“I thought it wasn’t good and I didn’t like it, but we didn’t know that if you went into a garage someone could shoot you.”
During cross-examination, Kaarma’s attorney Paul Ryan attempted to draw connections between Pazmino and other teenagers to support his burglary ring contention.
“You thought it was dangerous,” Ryan said. “You told Diren it was dangerous and he should stop.”
Pazmino explained again that the boys considered garage-hopping to be a game.
“No one told us what could happen – not the organization, not the school and not the police department,” he said.
Ryan then asked him if it was acceptable to enter strangers’ homes during the night in Ecuador, and asked whether Pazmino was aware that exchange students must follow Montana law to be able to stay in the country.
Ryan also asked what Pazmino was wearing that night.
He told the jury that he put on a hoodie and wasn’t wearing his glasses when he and Dede left the house.
Ryan also questioned Pazmino about his social plans that night and if he went straight home to Dede’s host parents when he was running away from the gunfire.
Pazmino said he ran straight back to Dede’s home.
Several of Kaarma’s neighbors also took the stand Tuesday morning, testifying that Janelle Pflager used the term “bait” or “baiting” in conversations describing how she and Kaarma were going to catch the burglars who were entering their garage.
On April 18, Pflager approached Robin Rosenquist, who lives across the street from the couple. Pflager told Rosenquist they had just been robbed and they were unsatisfied with the police response.
“She was upset and indignant because the officer told them to keep their doors locked and garage doors closed, and they weren’t going to do that,” Rosenquist said.
Pflager told Rosenquist her partner was “was pissed because his favorite pipe was stolen.”
Pflager also said she called the cellphone and confronted the burglars, yelling at them to bring the belongings back, she said.
“Do you really think someone would come back again, knowing how upset they are?” Rosenquist allegedly replied.
“Oh yeah, he’s coming back because we are going to bait him,” Pflager allegedly said.
Rosenquist said that word really struck her because she would have just allowed the police to handle a burglary.
“She seemed really aggressive to me,” Rosenquist said. “She wasn’t fearful. She seemed upset and ... determined would be the word.”
Another neighbor, Jessica Bracey, took the stand and told jurors that Pflager used the word “baiting” when she spoke with her about the April 17 burglary.
“The comment was 'guns were loaded' and she was going to protect her son,” Bracey said.
Pflager said she didn’t want to “shoot some 14-year-old kid who is breaking into the house and is stealing money for pot.”
When Bracey and her husband awoke after the April 27 shooting, she remembered what Pflager had said.
“They baited them in there,” she said.
On cross-examination, both neighbors said they had most of their conversations with Pflager and had very little interaction with Kaarma. In addition, Bracey said she had guns inside her home and would use them to protect herself and her family.
Neighbors' testimony continued into the afternoon with Terry Klise and several others taking the stand.
Klise said that Pflager called him at 1 a.m. April 18 after her garage was burglarized. Pflager believed Klise's car had also been burglarized.
A Missoula police officer was taking the initial report when Klise approached. Pflager decided to call the iPhone that had been stolen from their garage. When the burglars picked up, Klise said Pflager's conversation was "jaw-dropping."
"She quickly went into a tirade," he said. "She was calling them (expletive) and calling them (expletive) and screaming at them. I remember looking at the officer and asking if this was out of line."
She then allegedly told them, "If you continue to return to our garage, you could be killed," he explained.
He said the officer raised his eyebrows, but didn't admonish Pflager for her language or behavior.
"I became incredibly uncomfortable and asked if I could leave," he said.
On the morning of the shooting, Klise said he awoke after a neighbor texted him, but police officers asked him to stay in his home as they worked on the scene.
The following morning, he and his wife Suzanne sent a text message to Pflager asking how she was doing. Pflager invited her neighbors over, but soon their sympathetic attitude toward Pflager shifted to disbelief.
"You don't have to worry about the burglaries anymore because he's dead," she allegedly told the couple.
"Her demeanor was just matter of fact," Klise told the court. "She was very cold and almost the attitude of well, we've got him. We don't have to worry about this anymore."
She gave the couple a tour of the parts of the house that were damaged by the pellets, he said. As the couple went through the kitchen and the laundry room, she asked if they would like to see the garage – now stained with Dede's blood.
"We told her we were not interested and we wanted out of there at that time," he said.
Testimony ended with the state calling neighbor and former law enforcement officer Mike Frellick to the stand.
Frellick recapped a conversation he had with Pflager after the April 17 burglary. He advised her to lock her doors and shut her garage, while offering to call friends at the Missoula Police Department.
He explained to her that the burglary was a "crime of opportunity," meaning someone was taking things that were available to take because their doors were open.
Pflager apparently told Frellick about the baby monitors she purchased and the one she installed, and said she didn't feel safe with Kaarma leaving to fight fire soon.
She then questioned Frellick about gun laws in Montana, specifically the stand-your-ground laws. In his explanation, he referenced a recent case where a man was being confronted in his home by an intruder, who had shattered his living room window to get inside the home.
Frellick said woke to several loud "bangs" on April 27 and went to his window to watch what transpired. From his home, he could see police cars and an ambulance pull up to the Kaarma residence.
"We observed them take a young man – or a person – out on a stretcher," he said. "We didn't know who it was at the time."
The trial will resume Thursday at 8 a.m. with more of Frellick's testimony.